Last Thursday was the deadline for E-Rate applicants to submit their Form 471 to ensure their participation in this federal telecommunications discount program. And thanks to a $1 million appropriation from the Texas Legislature and a lot of hard work by our project partner, E-Rate Central, and TSLAC staff, primarily Technology Consultant Henry Stokes, we may have several dozen new libraries participate in that program. Taking advantage of assistance from E-Rate Central in submitting applications and our subsidies to cover the non-discounted portion of their higher rates in 2019, we have 75 additional libraries that will be participating in E-Rate in Texas. That is a jump of statewide participation from 23% to 36% and overall Internet speeds for these libraries will more than double, and for many will increase by many times. And we will bring in over half a million dollars in federal discounts to Texas.
Why is this important? Because access to high-speed Internet is increasingly recognized by elected officials and policy makers as an essential component of education, economic development, and community sustainability. This is especially important in rural areas of the state. Take for example, the town of Honey Grove, Texas, where residents depend on broadband connectivity at the Bertha Voyer Library to provide GED training, search and apply for jobs, access health information, or get a tax form. Until recently, even with E-Rate, the library’s access consisted of only two T-3 lines delivering 3 megabits per second and at a cost of nearly $900 after discount. Under Libraries Connecting Texas, access at the library will improve to 50 megabits per second. Bertha Voyer Library Director Pattie Mayfield has commented on the challenge of rural connections in her customarily eloquent and direct manner:
“Internet connectivity in small, rural towns is outrageously priced and even at best slow and often cumbersome. Until the AT&T’s and Verizon’s are forced to provide the same type and quality of service at the same affordable price offered in urban settings – internet connectivity in small rural libraries must remain a concern of policy and lawmakers. Cutting off services such as this will be one more blow to rural populations – those who grow the food and work with the land and provide for all those who can’t provide for themselves and do so while barely making ends meet. People who choose to work hard and are the heartland of America have been forgotten long enough!”
We heard similar comments last week at a community forum on broadband convened by the Glasshouse Policy Institute. Community leaders and residents alike voiced their frustration at the lack of availability and affordability of broadband service in rural areas. State Representative Doc Anderson gave generously of his time to discuss the matter with the community and to consider constructive ways the state can support progress in Broadband.
In other news, like the rest of the statewide library community, we are looking forward to participating in the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in Dallas next week. Many TSLAC staff will be presenting topics and greeting the public at our booth (# 2406) in the exhibit hall. On Tuesday, our commission will be meeting at 9 a.m. at the Omni Hotel, the agenda to include consideration of contracts for TexShare and TexQuest online information services.
We look forward to seeing many of our library colleagues next week in Dallas.